Time, Money and Teacher Prep

Higher education groups take issue with how the federal Education Department estimated the cost to colleges of its proposed regulation.

January 5, 2015

WASHINGTON -- Several dozen higher education groups said Friday that the U.S. Department of Education was lowballing an estimate of how much its proposal to tighten regulation of teacher preparation programs would cost colleges and states.

The American Council on Education and other groups urged the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to take a second look at the estimates and use a third party to verify their validity.

The Obama administration in November unveiled preliminary rules that would require states to develop rating systems for teacher preparation programs that take into account, among other things, the job placement rates of graduates as well as the academic performance of the students they teach. Programs that are rated poorly would eventually lose access to federal TEACH Grants, which the government awards to students who are training to be teachers and commit to working in high-need school districts after graduation.

Under the proposal, states would have to start collecting from colleges various new pieces of data about how their teacher preparation programs are performing, and then release that information to the public.

Proponents of the regulation say that the focus on outcomes at teacher preparation programs will help improve the quality of teaching in high-need school districts where federal TEACH Grant recipients must commit to working after graduation.

The proposed rule, after several years of delay, is now moving ahead in a rulemaking process, with public comments due by Feb. 2. The Education Department has said it plans to finalize the regulation by September.

In the meantime, though, many critics of the administration’s proposal are now seizing on a chance to call attention to how costly it would be for colleges and states to fill out the paperwork associated with the rule.

Because the Education Department wants to collect new information from outside the government, like any federal agency, it needs permission from the Office of Management and Budget. That office is now reviewing whether the new teacher quality report cards (to be published by states and colleges under the proposal) constitute an appropriate federal collection of information.

Public comments on that narrow issue of the burden associated with the regulations -- but not the merits of the proposal -- were due to the OMB on Friday.

The Education Department estimated that it would cost colleges and states about $42 million over 10 years to comply with the new data reporting requirements.

But a group of higher education associations said that estimate woefully understated the likely cost of the regulations.

The department’s projections “consistently and obviously under-represent common-sense indicators as to their true cost,” wrote Molly Corbett Broad, the president of the American Council on Education.

For example, the group said, the Education Department estimated that it would take only four hours for a college to update its record-keeping systems to comply with the new reporting requirements, which “grossly underestimates the complexity of campus information technology systems.”

California education officials wrote in a separate letter that the proposed regulations would cost their state alone approximately $485 million each year. The California State University system said it would cost that institution approximately $4.7 million over 10 years to comply with the proposed rules.

The disagreement over the how costly the regulations will be for colleges comes as the regulatory burden on higher education is likely to get renewed attention in Washington. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a Republican who will take the helm of the Senate’s education committee in the new Congress this week, has said eliminating requirements and mandates on colleges is a top priority for him. 



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